Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz is a man of few words. So when he speaks, people listen.
On Tuesday, he was honored for 30 years of service and summed up his philosophy succinctly:
“There are certain things in policing that don’t change with all the technology, and that’s a cop on the beat, and uniformed officers getting to know the people in their community,” he told the mayor and council.
The chief said Morristown’s spirit of community keeps him coming back for more, and that spirit was celebrated with a series of presentations at the council meeting.
Frank “Homeboy” Osborne, who died recently at age 86, was praised by Mayor Tim Dougherty as a U.S. Marine, an activist and volunteer, and a poet and boxer who advised the Mayor to always “hit back.”
“We just hope that you will all keep his legacy alive, and that was about caring for, and helping, people in Morristown,” said Frank’s son, Ricky, a staff member at the Frelinghuysen Middle School.
Giovanni Rivera also was singled out. At age 9, he might have trouble spelling “humanitarian.” Yet that’s what he is, according to the Mayor.
Last month, Giovanni asked friends to skip giving him birthday gifts, and instead donate supplies to kids affected by Superstorm Sandy at the Hugh J. Boyd Seaside Heights Junior Elementary School.
Video playlist of presentations.
“It was wonderful to feel the complete sense of community” from the outpourings for the Chief, Frank Osborne and young Giovanni, Mayor Dougherty said afterward.
“It makes me feel proud,” said longtime resident Margret Brady, watching from the audience.
The evening also included commendations for Detective Brendan Briscoe and Officers Kevin Beal, James Green–who alertly tracked down a resident’s tip and collared an alleged burglar– and Jermaine Marbley, who confronted and arrested an armed suspect behind the Staples store last year, according to Chief Demnitz.
Tyrone Jackson was sworn in as a sergeant, and seven new hires took the oath of office as police: Michael Alberto, James Green, Emmanuel Maragonis, David Gizzi, Diego Alvarado, Darius Harrison and Robert Edwards.
Chief Demnitz thanked the mayor and council for authorizing the hires, and said he’s not hanging up his badge any time soon.
“When am I leaving? They tell you when you stop liking coming to work, it’s time to leave. Well, I love coming to work,” the Chief said.
“I have a great group of people that I consider my family. I have the dedication my father gave me, 47 1/2 years in the same job. And I have the passion and compassion that my mother gave me. She was the woman that always came to your house with a loaf of bread or spaghetti sauce if you were in need. I still have that, and a great group of people.”
There are many voices in the gun control debate. An important one is law enforcement.
On Thursday, Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz told community activists that stricter gun controls alone won’t prevent tragedies like last month’s massacre of children and teachers in Newtown, CT. Nor can police guarantee safety–no matter how well trained and well armed they are. Not unless society is willing to turn schools into fortresses.
Ultimately, the Chief contended, 21st-century citizens must rely on the same thing that saved their forebears on the frontier: Their wits.
“In the United States of America, we’ve had an expectation that legislation and government is the answer. And we’ve lost a lot of our ability to survive,” said the Chief, sharing some candid observations with a new grass-roots local group called the Committee Against Gun Violence.
He wasn’t talking about bunkers in Montana.
Survival, he asserts in our video clip, often boils down to something as basic as knowing where the exits are, and using them at the first sign of trouble. When considering your options, “Ninety-nine percent of the time, it should be: Flee,” said the Chief, who has studied mass shootings since the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado.
Some victims of the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings would have survived if they had run instead of instinctively hiding under desks, the Chief said.
“It’s a very sad case, because kids were killed where they lay, and there was an ability to flee. And we’ve lost our ability to survive, and our most basic instinct–which is to run away.”
Of course, he worries about the firepower that his officers could encounter from citizens armed with assault weapons. But he noted that gun control measures announced in New York State and proposed by President Obama still allow magazines with multiple rounds of ammunition–and popping in another magazine only takes a couple of seconds for a determined shooter.
“I want you to maintain the energy” of your campaign, the Chief told the activists, who included elected officials, clergy, social service workers, school board members, moms and seniors. “But if you’re going to work on getting rid of assault weapons, I [also] want you to think about how to survive.”
That means learning survival skills taught to every cop. Size up a room the minute you walk in. Who is there? Does anyone look threatening? Where are the exits?
A book called The Unthinkable, Who Survives When Disaster Strikes–and Why, by Time magazine correspondent Amanda Ripley, should be required reading for everyone, the Chief said.
On 9/11, a woman inside the doomed World Trade Center squandered precious moments by hunting for a misplaced mystery novel before attempting to escape, the Chief told listeners.
“If I told you: ‘Get out of this building, right away,’ I guarantee you three or four would reach for your bag,” said the Chief.
His hypothetical scenario had an eerie authenticity to it. He was speaking at the Morristown & Township Library, in a basement conference room a few yards from the location of a powerful 2010 explosion. Swift action by library staffers–alert to tell-tale warning signs–evacuated the building moments before that blast (still unsolved), almost certainly saving lives.
Gun control measures proposed by President Obama include training for school officials and emergency responders on how to respond to active shooting situations, and development of model emergency response plans for schools and other institutions.
In the wake of last spring’s suicide by a freshman who authorities say was bullied, the Chief assigned a police officer to Morristown High School. The officer has proven popular, winning the trust of students, he said. Likewise, Morris Township has placed an officer at Frelinghuysen Middle School. The Chief expressed confidence that students would alert these officers if they knew trouble was brewing. But placing police in every school would be a costly proposition, he acknowledged.
There is one piece of legislation that Chief Demnitz would welcome. As police chief, he approves all gun permits in town; he estimated 40 percent of the population is armed. His approval consists of a background check. Unlike motorists, no test or training is required by law.
“I sign off on a piece of paper that says you have a clean background,” he explained. “Do you know how to load that weapon? Do you know how to keep it safe? Are you getting any safety instruction?”
Morristown committee plans grass-roots support for President’s gun control package; police chief urges ‘survival skills’
Countering the NRA’s powerful lobbying machine won’t be easy. But they seem compelled to try.
“Many of us feel that Newtown changed everything,” Councilwoman Rebecca Feldman said Thursday at the initial gathering of the Morristown Committee Against Gun Violence. “Like if that didn’t do it, what will?”
About 40 people came to the Morristown & Township Library to brainstorm about how to prod area legislators to support President Obama’s proposed gun control measures, in the aftermath of last month’s massacre of 26 children and teachers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.
For two hours, residents of Morristown and Morris Township debated how to crystallize their message, garner attention and get in the faces of lawmakers. They even kicked around snappier names for their fledgling group, which was pulled together with online tools from MoveOn.org. Similar meetings were convened across the country.
Participants in Morristown heard a recorded message from the mother of a victim of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, imploring them to press for a ban on assault weapons and more stringent background checks for gun purchasers.
POLICE CHIEF: LEARN TO FLEE
Weapons bans won’t be enough, however. Not according to Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz, who has been studying mass shootings since the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Colorado.
People must hone their survival skills, he told the group. That means knowing all the exits, sizing up the threat, and considering your options.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, it should be: Flee,” said the police chief.
Please click icon below for captions
He estimated that 40 percent of town residents own licensed guns. Yet he was incredulous that gun owners–unlike motorists–are not required to take any training or tests. They simply must pass a background check.
The Chief endorses assigning “resource officers” to schools, praising an officer he assigned to Morristown High School in September as someone students trust. But he acknowledged it’s costly to staff every school with police.
President Obama’s proposals include incentives for schools to hire such officers, along with requests for Congress to fund programs for training school officials to respond to active shootings, and to prepare emergency response plans at schools.
Survival training for kids should become a priority of the local committee, said Pastor Sidney Williams Jr. of Morristown’s Bethel A.M.E. Church.
“In inner cities, kids know what to do when they hear shots ringing,” the minister said. “In communities like this, you don’t expect it, you don’t think about it.”
MOM: ‘LIKE THE HOLOCAUST’
Nancy Bangiola, president of the Morris School District board and the library board, agreed to help with future organizing efforts. She was acting both as a concerned mom, and a school board member, she said.
“I can’t not be involved. I have a sense of how to mobilize people, and a sense that people want to make a statement and effect change,” Nancy said. She added that she knows every principal and teacher in the district, “and I know the lengths they would go to to protect children in their care. We just need to bring some rational voices to this, and good things will happen.”
Strong emotions filled the room.
Morristown resident Art Klein, still shaken by Newtown, stood up and declared: “Every time this happens, I cry. I don’t want to cry anymore. I’ve had it.”
“It can never happen again. Like the Holocaust, enough is enough,” said Dorothy Ann Frank, a mother of two.
ORGANIZER: ‘KIDS ARE GETTING KILLED’
Newtown “felt like the last straw” to Pam Hasegawa, who co-organized the Morristown event with Rebecca Feldman.
“This isn’t going to get fixed by people moaning and groaning about the issues and all the parenthetical stuff. It’s about taking action to prevent more gun violence. It’s got to be a strong, mobilized, galvanized voice,” she said.
Over the years, Pam has lobbied for the rights of adopted to children to learn about their birth parents, pressed for more field trips for town school kids, and promoted sustainable farming in Asia and Africa.
Rebecca Feldman told the gathering that she hoped the movement would “build a network of thousands and thousands” of people swiftly, before the Newtown horror recedes from the public consciousness.
“This is really about political action. It’s all about votes. It’s totally grassroots,” she said
Rebecca knows something about that; she has pushed to get playgrounds built, deny raises to a prior mayor and pass a referendum for an anti-pay-to-play law. All of that seems secondary now, she said.
“When Newtown happened, I thought, what the hell have I been doing for 10 years? Kids are getting killed.”
By Kevin Coughlin and Bill Swayze
Morristown’s police force, which had slipped to just 48 members last year, is on the rebound with the addition of six officers.
They were sworn in Thursday at a ceremony that also recognized nine officers for assisting at Ground Zero in the days after the 9/11 terror attacks a decade ago. Eight promotions were acknowledged, too, during the hour-long event at the Hyatt Morristown.
“We had a lot of people to choose from. We got A-1 cops,” Police Chief Pete Demnitz said of the new officers. “These people will serve the community well and they will never cause me a problem. I can almost guarantee it.”
Five of them had been laid off by other departments. They were hired under provisions of the “Rice law,” a measure sponsored by state Sen. Donald Rice Sr. (D-Essex) that enables towns to hire laid-off rookie officers without making them repeat their police academy training.
Photos by Detective Tom Loia. Please click icon below for captions.
One of the new recruits has told the chief that Morristown is heaven compared to his former beat. Still, the new officers ought to be plenty busy. The chief described Morristown as Morris County’s most active town for police activity.
Retirements, military duty and special assignments had shrunk the bureau from a high of more than 60 officers a few years ago to less than 50 members.
“Chief Demnitz has worked with an unbelievably depleted staff and done a tremendous job… There’s only so far we can stretch that rubber band before it snaps,” said Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi, who praised Mayor Tim Dougherty and the town council for addressing the shortages.
Asked to summarize the police bureau, the Mayor settled on three words: “Awesome. Professional. Courageous.”
The new officers are Robert Iozzia, originally from the Fairfield police department; Jermaine Marbley and Roberto Rosado from the Newark police; Christopher Ravallese and Kevin Kunzig from the Paterson department; and Morristown native Scott Pino.
Michael Andrisano, Stuart Greer, David Tissot and Keith Cregan were promoted to sergeant. Chief Demnitz said Keith Cregan was one of the reasons the bureau was depleted; the officer had been loaned to an IRS task force. His work there should net the town $400,000 from the federal government, the chief said.
Promoted to lieutenant were Robert Holtz, who saw military duty in the first Iraq war; Michael Buckley, a Marine veteran; and Darnell Richardson, who the chief praised as his “right-hand man.”
Rounding out the promotions was Steve Sarinelli, the bureau’s public information officer, sworn in as a captain.
Capt. Sarinelli also was singled out for service at Ground Zero, along with Capt. Michael Ubertaccio, Lt. James Cullen, Detective Sgt. Stuart Greer, Detective Richard Lamperti, Detective Brendan Briscoe and Officers Brian McDonnell, Adam Khoudja and Scott Weaver.
The officers had made their way to the World Trade Center wreckage in 2001 to volunteer in rescue efforts on “the pile,” working 12- to 16-hour shifts, said Sgt. Greer.
It was a scene of chaos and destruction that is still difficult for the officers to talk about.
“There was so much confusion,” Sgt. Greer said. “It’s not something I personally care to remember.”
The chief also thanked his counterpart in Morris Township, Chief Dennis Reilly. When Morristown’s police basement flooded earlier this year, Chief Reilly shared his department’s facilities.
Chief Demnitz summarized his approach to community policing with a story about a cop who once griped about transporting people around town.
“It doesn’t say ‘taxi’ on this car, it says ‘police,’ ” the officer said.
The chief told him: “You’re right. But it’s in invisible ink. It says ‘taxi,’ it says ‘plumber,’ it says ‘electrician,’ it says anything and everything that people want it to be.”